Saturday, July 17, 2021

A Quick, Sad Vignette on American Gun Violence

There was a shooting tonight outside Nationals Park, in the Navy Yard neighborhood of Washington, DC.

When I first starting hearing about this, I quickly googled "Navy Yard shooting" in hopes of getting more information. 

Most of the hits were about a mass shooting event in 2013, where twelve people plus the gunman were killed.

So I got more specific: "Navy Yard shooting 2021".

The search returned results about a shooting that occurred this past February.

I tried one more time: "Navy Yard shooting 2021 Nationals stadium". And that finally gave me results about the events of this evening.

It took me three tries to successfully narrow down to tonight's Navy Yard shooting. Because there were so many other Navy Yard shootings to choose from.

We cannot go on like this.


An eight year old girl who was at the game answers a reporter who asks how she was feeling: "It was my 2nd shooting, so I was kind of prepared. I’m always expecting something to happen." 

Regrouping American Jewish Group Strategy: Nazarian versus Harris

This JTA article -- surveying some American Jewish leaders on the new polling showing that between a quarter and a third of American Jews believe some very harsh things about Israel -- illuminates an interesting divide in the American Jewish establishment. All agree the poll shows a "problem" that needs a response. But in terms of specifics, we're saying a breakdown into two camps.

The first is well exemplified by ADL bigwig Sharon Nazarian. She argues that the problem is that major American Jewish organizations' incessant rah-rah-rahing of Israel ends up driving people away insofar as it doesn't paint a "realistic" picture of the state.:

Nazarian says the traditional mainstream organizational focus on, and lionization of, Israel is becoming a liability and turning people away.

“This narrative about Israel needs to be a more realistic one, one that [brings] attention to the strengths of the state, and to its weaknesses,” said Nazarian, a philanthropist who is president of a family foundation that funds research into education.

The second camp is embodied in AJC chieftain David Harris, who locates the problem in a failure of effective Israel education:

“A main source of disconnect between segments of American Jews and the reality of Israel is deficient education,” David Harris, the CEO of the American Jewish Committee, one of the rally’s sponsors, said in an email. 

Harris pointed to an AJC poll last month that showed only 37% of respondents described their Israel education growing up as “strong,” and to separate data showing that young people increasingly are getting their news from social media “where untruths are rampant,” he said.  

“Clearly, greater efforts at educating American Jews, especially younger cohorts, about all aspects of Israeli society, and connecting them with their counterparts in Israel, are critical for ensuring nuanced understanding about Israel and strengthening Israel-Diaspora relations,” he said. 

Now, nominally these positions can be harmonized. I've written about how our Israel education is failing precisely because it assumes a "never bend, never compromise" posture is necessary in the face of rising anti-Israel sentiment worldwide, when in reality that approach makes it far more likely that young Jews will eventually break. I do not personally relate to the oft-repeated millennial story that goes something like "I was always taught that Israel could do no wrong, but once I visited myself/met some Palestinians/read some new books/watched the news I realized that I had been misled and the story I had been taught was not an accurate one -- and that's why I joined IfNotNow." My Israel education never felt that one-sided. But it makes sense to me that if one was taught that Israel is only a place of virtue and light, that a headlong crash into reality leaves only the choices of denial or existential crisis.

Unfortunately, I do not think that what Harris has in mind with respect to better Israel education is one that gives a more realistic accounting of Israel's strengths and weaknesses as a state. He thinks we need to be more aggressive in instilling young American Jews with a beatific outlook towards Israel, in the belief that such an attitude will make them immune to the lures of the TikTokers and the college activists and the insta videos. 

Again, I think that's a recipe for failure. But my position isn't that important. What is important is how the divide between Nazarian and Harris actually is resolved, because it represents a pivotal decision in how mainline Jewish organizations recalibrate their Israel discourse, education, and programming. Harris is finally retiring from the helm of the AJC after over thirty years in office -- longer than most global dictators* -- and who is chosen as his replacement could make a massive difference in the trajectory of that organization, which has followed Harris down a noticeably right-ward path in recent years. Fresh blood could revert the AJC to a more representative posture aligned with the actual views of the American Jews it purports to represent.

But there's a history of major Jewish organizations tapping leadership well to the right of their membership either to boost fundraising or due to a misbegotten desire to appear "bipartisan" (e.g.: prominent Trump donor Ron Lauder at the helm of the World Zionist Congress, former RJC staffer William Daroff ascending to lead the Conference of Presidents -- it's amazing how little attention this all gets compared to "Jonathan Greenblatt held an obscure non-political post in the Obama administration, ergo, the ADL is basically Our Revolution" discourse). One doesn't see the NAACP tap Thomas Sowell or even Michael Steele to be its top officer, yet I'm having nightmares of reading the press release touting Matt Brooks as the next AJC head.

What I hope is that people like Nazarian will recognize that their diagnosis will go nowhere unless they fight for the right treatments. It is not an accident that there is a growing divide between American Jewish organizations and American Jewish human beings, and simply letting things go on autopilot will not result in a change. Nazarian and her allies need to start working to make sure that the other Jewish groups in the picture start picking leaders and building out staffers in a way that will facilitate the transition. That means elevating a younger, probably more diverse, definitely more liberal (which is just to say, more representative) cadre than the old guard they'll be replacing. But if they don't put in the work, the ship isn't going to turn. 

Nazarian sees the problem correctly. Now it's time to actually right course.

* No exaggeration. There are only five currently-serving heads of state who've have continuously been in office longer than Harris has at the AJC: the leaders of Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Iran, Cambodia, and Uganda. Grand company, that!

Friday, July 16, 2021

We Could Be Done

It's the cry of exasperated parents everywhere: "If you'd stop squirming, it would be over already!"

I just read an article about a renewed surge of COVID cases in central Missouri, in an area where vaccination rates are appallingly low. It both saddened, scared, and infuriated me. Simply put: we could be done with this by now. We have the resources to get everyone vaccinated, and reach herd immunity for the few people who have genuine medical reasons not to be (no, the chain message your great aunt Margaret posted on FB does not suffice as a genuine reason to avoid vaccination).

But we're not doing it. People are still avoiding vaccination, in large part because -- let's not mince words -- one of our two political parties has converted into a death cult on this issue. Even a few years ago anti-vaxx sentiment was associated with crunchy granola types in Southern California* -- now, it's de rigueur among any remotely ambition Republican politician. The result is that people are dying who do not need to die. And while right now the vaccine does protect against the most serious symptoms of the disease, the longer we go without outright crushing COVID, the more likely that one of these new variants or mutants will evade the vaccine altogether.

One year ago, the fight against COVID was a race to minimize casualties while treatments were developed. Today, we have the tools we need to beat COVID, and the only reason we haven't is because some people remain too selfish or self-absorbed to do the bare minimum to keep their community and loved one's safe. It is such a sad, outrageous commentary on the state of the American people.

* Maybe the best pro-vaccine PSAs to run to persuade conservative heartlanders are not from doctors, or politicians, or celebrities, but just images of some stereotypical beach bum hippy complaining that vaccines are like, ruining their chakra and are the White man's medicine, and saying "don't be like them." You don't want to be some pinko commie, do you? Get vaxxed to own the libs!

It's pathetic that this might work, but it'd be worth it if it did.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Israel Has a Right To Exist -- After That, It's All in Play

A new poll of American Jews just dropped, and it has some fascinating details that have everyone chatting.

To be sure, not everything is a bombshell. Much of the poll is pretty old hat: Jews are overwhelmingly Democrats. We like Biden. We detest Republicans. All of this is pretty dog bites man. Orthodox Jews have near polar opposite views from the rest of the Jewish community, which isn't quite dog bites man yet but is approaching that status. Jews think antisemitism is a significant problem, and far and away see it as a bigger problem on the right than the left -- that should be dog bites man, but you'd never know it from Jewish media coverage.

But on the Israel side of things, there were some genuinely notable findings -- most of which center around the surprising robustness of certain very harsh criticisms of Israel. A quarter of American Jews think Israel is an "apartheid state", and only 28% think such a view is antisemitic. A third think Israel's treatment of Palestinians is reminiscent of American racism, and a fifth think Israel is committing "genocide." For each of these, fewer than half of American Jews think the view in question is antisemitic (though majorities disagree with all of them). So these views are still very much a minority, but they're not negligible either -- more Jews think Israel is an apartheid state than plan to vote Republican in 2022, for instance.

The one outlier to all of this was the position that "Israel has no right to exist." Unlike "apartheid", "racism", or even "genocide", that position overwhelmingly was opposed and perceived as antisemitic by respondents -- 84% disagreed with it substantively, and 67% thought it was antisemitic. I'm not sure what makes that position such a glaring red line compared to others, but it is. I've always been a bit perplexed at those who really plant their feet on the "Israel has no right to exist" hill -- trolls and rabble-rousers I get, but there are people who really seem to think that asking one to affirm "Israel has a right to exist" represents some deep-cut barrier to a host of pro-Palestinian politics, when to my ears 95% of the time the demanding ask "do you agree Israel has a right to exist" can be neutralized by saying "yes" and moving on to specific policy briefs. This poll very much backs up my intuition. If you sharply criticize Israel, even say it is an apartheid state, a majority of American Jews won't think you're antisemitic and a non-negligible chunk will agree with you. If you say Israel has no right to exist at all, you're very much on your own.

The other interesting bit of information, to my eyes, was the poll's support for two-states versus one-state solutions in Israel/Palestine and (more importantly), disaggregating one-staters into those who think Palestinians should be allowed to vote in the unified state versus those who don't. Of these three options, two-states maintains strong primary with 61%, while the two one-state options (the poll calls them "annexation" and "one-state", though the more accurate labels would be "apartheid" and "non-apartheid") each get around 20%.

Like with the harsh Israel criticism, 20% is definitively a decisive minority, but it isn't a negligible one.  It can definitely exercise influence. And in some ways the two-staters are in a more awkward position because they have 20% dissidents hitting them from both sides -- those who want apartheid and those who want to abolish a Jewish state. The "center" (in quotes because the Jewish "center" is really just mainstream liberalism) can hold, but it will need to fight, because it is being squeezed from both ends. The left-wing one-staters have been dismissed as a fringe phenomenon, and they're not -- they're not the "silenced majority" either, but they're very much present and we can't put our heads in the sand about them anymore. The right-wing one-staters, for their part, are already inside the tent, but there's denialism about what they're actually asking for (explicit apartheid) -- we also need to stop being ostriches about who they are and what they stand for.

Finally, of relevance to my "pick your stick" post from a few months ago, the survey has some interesting data on the subject of foreign aid  to Israel. The short version is that strong majorities support continuing aid to Israel, but a substantial majority also favors conditioning aid so that it cannot be used to expand settlements. Peace Now recently became the first pro-Israel group to endorse the prospect of imposing aid conditions, and this poll suggests they have solid backing behind them (while falsifying the notion that American Jews want to cut Israel off outright).

Monday, July 12, 2021

Are Progressives Being Excluded from the Anti-Antisemitism Movement?

The majority of the commentary on the "No Fear" rally against antisemitism -- my own included -- has focused on the presence/absence of progressive Jews from the event, and the degree to which the event was or wasn't a welcoming space for progressive Jews who are passionate about fighting antisemitism.  My commentary has generally taken the view that progressive Jews should have shown up, and critiqued modes of thinking that basically guarantee that our presence will be viewed as a loss or sacrifice. That said, clearly there is purchase to the concerns that events like the No Fear rally are not welcoming spaces for progressive Jews who do not want to check either identity at the door. Ron Kampeas' coverage of the rally provides some striking examples. These include:

  • A Biden official facing jeers by Trumpist attendees who claimed the election was stolen and that the Biden admin was funding terrorists. Those persons were apparently especially furious when it was noted that Biden made the decision to run for President after watching the White Supremacist rally in Charlottesville and Donald Trump's tepidly ambiguous reaction to it.
  • Loud boos at the mention of Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, dwarfing the more muted reaction to Marjorie Taylor Green.
  • A couple who were accosted by a fellow attendee "in a Kahane shirt" who told them that their "No to occupation, No to antisemitism" sign meant that they should be standing with the Netorei Karta (the rally organizers had insisted that Kahanists would not be welcome at the rally).
To that we might add the (successful) efforts by conservatives to remove language suggesting J Street would be welcome, and the ambivalent on-again-off-again status of an "inclusivity" message declaring  that the rally would not tolerate "expressions of racism, Islamophobia, misogyny, classism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia or any other hate," which drew the ire of right-wing participants. All of these together surely can be said to create a manifestly hostile environment for a progressive Jew who very much cares about fighting antisemitism, but finds herself clearly unwelcome when she tries to join the space.

So, it is perhaps high time to ask: are progressives (especially progressive Jews) being squeezed out of Jewish anti-antisemitism movements?

The question is deliberately framed as a mirror to the far-more commonly investigated question: "Are Jews being excluded from the progressive movement?" There, too, we have a bevy of examples of Jews who try to show up in progressive movements and are subjected to a host of hostile responses -- sometimes microaggressions, sometimes very macroaggressions -- that are clear in signaling to them "you are not welcome".

Now, in both cases, it is possible to traverse the question by denying the "excluded" persons have any business in the object movements to begin with. The Jews who complain about being locked out of the progressive movement are not, we're told, actually progressive; the progressives who express discomfort about how inclusive the anti-antisemitism movement is do not, it is said, actually care much about antisemitism -- and so it is perfectly natural and appropriate that they aren't welcomed with open arms. The smarmy response to Jews who say they're uncomfortable in progressive spaces is to tell them their discomfort proves they aren't really progressive (who but a reactionary would be uncomfortable in a progressive space); the smarmy response to progressives who say they're uncomfortable at an antisemitism rally is to declare that their discomfort proves they don't care about antisemitism (who but an antisemite would be uncomfortable at a rally against antisemitism?).

But while I don't deny that there are persons who fit that critique, in both cases we would do better to accept in principle that the people claiming exclusion are genuine in their desire to be included, and that it is a problem insofar as they do not feel included. The Jews who seek inclusion in progressive spaces and find it wanting are not Fifth Column infiltrators; the Jews who want to stand up against antisemitism but feel as if their presence is undesired are not self-hating bigotry apologists. Accepting that, we can start to think about what progressive spaces are doing wrong if (many) Jews who are very much progressive don't feel included there, and likewise what anti-antisemitism events are doing wrong if (many) progressives who are very much committed to fighting antisemitism don't feel welcome there.

One thing I have noticed moving around Jewish spaces is that, when they think about big-tent inclusivity, they almost always mean for that to be inclusive of more conservative Jews. It is taken for granted that progressive Jews are already included as much as they need to be -- it is conservatives who need to be given sops and accommodations to ensure that they feel welcome. At one level, I understand why this is -- most Jews, and most Jewish professionals, are Democrats, so it seems weird to them that the events and structures they create could be inadequate for other persons who like them are left-of-center. In classic "a liberal is someone who won't take his own side in an argument" fashion, they assume that the only accommodations that need to be made are ones for the Jewish right, and that "accommodations" for the Jewish left are not actually about expanding the tent but rather are self-serving entrenchments of the already-prevailing orthodoxy. The ironic result is that Jewish progressive values are under-represented in Jewish communal programming in large part because they are assumed to be so omnipresent that they needn't be made explicit, and the result often is that many Jewish progressives do not see themselves as included in these spaces.

For example, I was at the conference of an anti-BDS group a few years where the overall tenor was very much standard-issue middle of the road Jewish content. Pro-Israel, nominally pro-two states, mentions of the occupation but without any detail, not wild about Bibi but overwhelmingly placing the blame for the current situation on Palestinian actors. Towards the end of the event, one person stood up and chided the conference organizers for operating under the assumption that "everyone here is a liberal". He said that there may be (likely are) people in attendance who do not support a Palestinian state, who do not think "Judea and Samaria" are occupied, who do not oppose the settlement project, and such persons were treated as invisible by the tacit assumption that everybody in the room held liberal views.

The conference organizers were clearly chagrined at their failure to be inclusive. But when I heard this critique, it triggered two thoughts. Thought number one is that while I had no problem with conservatives attending this conference, there was no foul in a Jewish-adjacent organization articulating value positions that are overwhelmingly popular among most Jews. If that makes them "uncomfortable", so be it. Thought number two was that the objector -- and the apologetic conference organizers -- clearly could not fathom that there might be persons who also felt uncomfortable with the tenor of the conference from the left. The rah-rah Zionism, the overwhelming emphasis on Palestinian culpability, the failure to significantly mention violations of academic freedom targeting Palestinian or pro-Palestinian persons -- there are plenty of persons (including plenty of BDS opponents!) who would've found the tone of the conference more than a bit squirmy. Now, to be sure, my response to them would be in large part identical to my response to the squeamish conservatives -- "so be it". There is no foul in a conference primarily made up of Jews having a tone that aligns with the views of most Jews. But it was noteworthy that while everyone immediately understood the "failure" of being inclusive towards the right, the idea that a Jewish conference might fail in being inclusive towards the left was unfathomable.

It's time to start fathoming. Identifying the problem leaves plenty of space for debating how to resolve it -- my posts above, for instance, advocate Jewish progressives adopting a kick-the-door-down mentality where they show up and change the tenor by being there and being vocal (this, incidentally, is also the advice one sometimes sees for how to resolve Jewish exclusion from progressive spaces -- show up, do the work, and make your presence known, and the tenor will change). Of course, this advice falters when the groups try to show up and find the doors locked, and I think there are plenty of good arguments suggesting additional tactics and accommodations are necessary. The ongoing issue where liberal Jews are policed to the letter while conservative counterparts are allowed to run wild is an obvious arena where changes must be made.

But the fact is, right now there are many Jews who are serious and committed to the fight against antisemitism for whom events like the No Fear rally are not welcoming spaces -- when they show up, they're told they're fake Jews, they're self-hating, they're anti-Zionists, they have blood on their hands, they are the enemy. That is a form of exclusion -- as toxic as when Jews try to attend a progressive rally and are told they are baby-killers, they are monsters, they are imperialists, they are settlers. It is dangerous, and we need to start thinking seriously about how to end it.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

How To Be United as Jews

With the No Fear rally now in the rear view mirror, I've been contemplating a paradox from the perspective of liberal Jews who are very much part of the communal tent and so can and should be part of any mass Jewish action.*

Imagine two universes where there is some idea for a big Jewish event. In Universe A, the original promoters of the event are on the Jewish left, in Universe B, they're on the right. In both cases, though, there is a desire for the event to be a "big tent" -- to include Jews of a wide range of backgrounds and ideologies.
  • In Universe A, the event initially starts off as a creature of the Jewish left, and so the efforts to reach out and be inclusive mean reaching out to the Jewish right. Such outreach, I believe, would be interpreted by the Jewish left as diluting or tainting the message -- these "outreach" efforts would viewed as "sops" to the Jewish right, taking the event and making it more right-wing.
  • In Universe B, the event initially starts off as a creature of the Jewish right, and the efforts to reach out and establish a big tent mean reaching out to the Jewish left (this was the story of the No Fear rally). Here, the Jewish left would view the genesis of the rally -- that it originated on the right -- as corrupting and suspect, they wouldn't want to participate in what they think is a right-wing stalking horse.
Do you see the paradox? If the supposed-to-be-united event begins as a left-wing event, efforts to expand the tent will be viewed as converting it into a right-wing event. And if the supposed-to-be-united event begins as a right-wing event, efforts to expand the tent will be viewed as laundering a right-wing event. Either way, the perception is that the supposed-to-be-united event is right-wing!

Now, perhaps part of the problem here is that a "united" event may end up over-representing the Jewish right as a purported sop to "unity", even though most Jews are not on the right. But even accounting for that, it is a problem when Jewish liberal groups feel as if "unity" events inherently are conservative events -- for many reasons, but one of the largest is that it discourages liberal Jews from showing up and taking their rightful place in the Jewish big tent, even though we very much belong there.

Something needs to be done to fix this, but I'm not sure what.

* This mean I'm not talking about left-wing Jewish groups that self-consciously hold themselves out as dissidents or gadflies, and intentionally separate themselves from such "united" gatherings. Whatever the merits or demerits of that approach, the groups I have in mind do not intend to adopt it.